A former barista and longtime coffee lover just now starting a homebrewing coffee journey? It’s more likely than you think.
Let’s take a few steps back. My priorities were already being shuffled around long before the pandemic stepped in and shook us for all our loose change. From moving to a new apartment to figuring out a career shift, my desire to have an omnipresent home cafe in the corner of my kitchen was a lovely dream, but just that. A distant dream of making coffee at home, constantly pushed onto the back burner and growing ever loftier with every new excuse. If I wanted to enjoy a good cup, there was always a great cafe (or three) just a walk away. I live in the heart of Washington: throw a stone.
These days it’s too risky to even go to the low-activity cafes or roasteries, on top of everyone’s wallets being burned out. Now that things are both more stable and entirely unstable for me, my love for coffee has been resuscitated beyond said coffeehouse trips (and endless poring through coffee industry reports). It’s time to save money in the long run and create a homebrewing coffee set-up, at my own pace and with my preferences front and center.
While living with my mother I’d bounced between using her little red Keurig and her French Press (buying specialty beans had also been low-priority). After I moved, my roommate also happened to have a Keurig on standby. One collecting dust, at that. I’d proceed to use it a few times a week with grocery store coffee staples like Peet’s and Signature Select, giving me another coveted taste of the homebrewing experience (as well as a reminder of why I don’t want to rely on unsustainable coffee pods in the future).
One day my roommate was cleaning up the place and asked if I wanted to sell her Keurig, flicking on the lightbulb in my head that I have a prime opportunity to finally, at long last, upgrade.
Don’t let my procrastination turn you away: putting together your own coffee corner is a ton of fun. I’m going to share my homebrewing coffee journey in this ongoing series, from the equipment I’ve bought to the beans I’m grinding. I’ll also share recipes I’m trying out, homebrewing coffee resources and my thoughts on coffee culture. If you have a coffee set-up you’ve been thinking of starting, or just enjoy the thrill of the journey, read on.
My newest greatest treasure.
Making coffee at home is not just satisfying, it’s pretty easy (and therapeutic) once you get the right equipment.
Putting off making coffee at home is understandable. When you’re not already working within a budget, you’re overwhelmed by choice fatigue and just how many options are on the table. Do you go with the basic coffee pot that needs little maintenance? What about a slightly more fancy, and slightly more intensive, French Press or pourover? There are a ton of fantastic lists online giving you breakdowns of how to get your home brewing set-up started: I liked this guide from The Daily Beast quite a bit, as it includes price ranges, reviews and even lifestyles for the first-time homebrewer (are you a hiker or a homebody, for instance).
My roommate would later sell her Keurig on Facebook Marketplace; I went to town looking for the first few staples of my home coffee set-up. As much as I would love a fancy espresso maker, even the cheapest ones will cost you a few hundred upfront. I needed something efficient, low-cost and easy to shuffle around in the event of another move. Preferably long-lasting, but that’s a mixture of luck and daily maintenance.
If your homebrewing coffee set-up doesn’t look like someone else’s, congratulations: you’re doing it right.
Getting bigger by the month (also see: paycheck).
I work from home. I’m very introverted. I rarely have guests over and I drink coffee more for the flavor and comfort than for the caffeine. In fact, anything other than the most minimum amount makes me physically ill. To top things off, I’m completely uninterested in cold brew and am working within a tight budget. The home brewing set-up of each person is very much a personality and lifestyle test. The goal is to bring out the love of the brew, not satisfy someone else’s preconceived notions. Begone, hipsters.
Finding the most effective and affordable coffee equipment had been the most work by far. I first asked around Facebook concerning electric coffee grinders, eventually finding them a little too risky an investment. Not only were they pricey, poring through recent user reviews revealed they had a very large margin for error. If parts weren’t outright missing, the expensive electronic would fizzle out in a month or two. Yeesh. There will always be bad experiences, but the sheer volume on Amazon had me worried. Was this a deluge of fake sellers (a notorious problem with the site) or just a series of products with poor oversight?
The more parts involved, the more things that can go wrong. The notoriously convoluted chain in the coffee industry is a prime example of this…but I digress.
Don’t be proud. Keep your manuals on hand just in case.
Erring on the side of caution, I ordered Hario Skerton Pro‘s manual coffee grinder (as well as a few bags of coffee beans) through Seattle Coffee Gear, keeping myself satiated in the meantime with instant coffee crystals from the grocery store. I’m a firm advocate that even the cheapest coffee has its place, and in this instance it was a cross between ‘I need to give this dalgona thing a try‘ and ‘dear God, I need something to tide me over until I can get quality coffee‘. Even now that I’m enjoying specialty beans, I’ll still be pulling out my instant jar once in a while. Until then…
…using a manual grinder for the first time was a lesson in sensation.
I’ve used electric coffee grinders for years. Dump in the beans, choose a setting and go. Feeling the beans bunch and crush beneath a ceramic burr, however, is a sensory delight. The aroma washes over you like a hot bath, doubly so for not having sweaty co-workers bumping into you as you count down the seconds until your espresso grind is ready. There really is nothing like the scent of fresh coffee. The Counter Culture Coffee decaf beans I used boast molasses and cocoa notes, though I could also catch a hint of raisin when I huffed in my results like an addict.
Seriously, this smells so damn good.
The sound of the beans being crushed between ceramic burrs is uniquely satisfying, too, free from the shrieking howl of electric grinders that are a few years past their expiration date and really want you to know it. That bouncy crunch is a blessing to the ears and over far too quickly, as I’m happy to say the Hario Skerton Pro can do a decent volume in a matter of minutes. I don’t plan on using it for more than me and maybe another person if I’m feeling social, so it’s the perfect size. I’ll be reviewing it later, but until then, I’m experimenting with my French Press and enjoying every minute of it.
Now for what we’ve all been waiting for…the beans.
Pertaining to the personality test above, I prefer dark roast over all else. The more flavor, the better, as far as I’m concerned. Decaf often runs light or medium, however, and finding the pitch-perfect decaf roasts can take a little digging. I went and bought two medium-roast decaf Peruvian blends to start with, one from the aforementioned Counter Culture Coffee and another from Partners Coffee Roasters. As stated above, the former has a brilliant aroma, and the latter is a fine runner-up. For those of you that lean toward the decaf life, look out for my decaf specialty coffee reviews coming up.
Fun fact: I’m saving all these coffee bags for an art project.
Making coffee at home is my peace.
A slice of the away right where I am and motivation to get out of bed in the morning (an increasingly rare occurrence in these quintessential uncertain times). While I may be used to working from home, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to get away from my computer and shake off the mental mothballs. I often make coffee in the morning, with the occasional afternoon cup. My concerns on buying electric coffee grinders turned out to be a hidden blessing, because the manual grind gives me the low-key effort of grinding and the pleasure of watching the magic unfold.
The coffee origins I’m the most interested in trying out going forward are Ethiopian, Ugandan and Mexican. I’m also going to lean toward small-batch roasters in the Pacific Northwest because…well, that’s where I live. That said, I’m open to trying anything as long as it sounds delicious. I’m a little giddy as I type this, knowing that I can finally start buying all these specialty bags I’ve been eyeing and go to town with delicious recipes. I might just have to bust out this blender for a homemade frappuccino or dalgona attempt.
Stay tuned for part two, where I’m going to explore the nitty gritty of using the French Press, coffee equipment maintenance and new additions to my homebrewing set-up. In the meantime…
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